By Teresa Younger •
Complete with unsolicited comments, touching attempts from strangers, and pressure to do away with your coils right now, or you risk the shame of being prevented from attending your graduation or losing gainful employment? Is natural hair controversy a real thing? How have generations dealt with this constant problem?
My news feed is a constant reminder that Afros and locs continue to be targets of attack.
Black hair controversy often presents as discrimination against people whose hairstyles do not conform to Eurocentric norms. This practice occurred throughout the U.S. unimpeded until July 2019 when California became the first state to set a foundation of values that outlawed the practice. Until the other states follow suit, you could be denied graduation in Texas, forced to cut your locs wrestling in New Jersey, or banned from the swimming pool in North Carolina. You could be fired from a television show if your hair’s considered “too Black.”
To my knowledge, I have never lost gainful employment because of my natural hair. But all my life, it’s been important for many people to impress upon me what they thought of my hair. Few opinions were good. A brief glance at my news feed confirms that public perception continues to weigh heavily against conspicuous, highly visible coils. The endless barrage makes a building space for love and self acceptance a challenge. Where do we look for strength and how do we strengthen our daughters in their journey?
My mother once told me that we speak our children into existence. I was a mother myself before I realized the weight of the words I spoke. They matter. Microaggressions are as plentiful as air and life on the receiving end of hair negativity. They can be emotionally debilitating. Strength can be found by those who develop coping strategies. My mother had five children, four of them were girls. She used plaits as a strategy. For years we wore the identical hairstyle: three plaits. One on top, two in the back, unadorned by dippity-do, beads or barrettes. The whole time our hair was doing its coily best to combat Mother’s work. She taught us to look within for strength and her plaits created space for us to begin the journey to self love by learning to love our natural coils. Plaits did so with less of the perceived threat of locs and Afros in an unfriendly world. They kept my sisters and I on the “fashion sidelines.” Our mother kept our hair plaited into three unadorned braids all through elementary school and half of junior high. Looking back I know that the plaits brought me time to fall in love with my coils. Mother must have known we would not otherwise have the fortitude to deal with the backlash against Black hairstyles.
Abolitionist John Stewart Rock coined the phrase “Black is Beautiful” in a speech in 1858. More than a hundred years passed before the words would resonate into a slogan that defined a movement in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. “Black is Beautiful” was an important tenet of the Black Consciousness Biko encouraged: Black people love each other; Black people love your natural selves.
I’ve had the freedom to wear my hair as I choose for decades. I have always found Black hair artistic and fascinating. Although my hairs has gone through many iterations, I’ve always returned to my natural hair. I like my hair, fashionable or not. My mom gave me the time to grow in self love and self acceptance. In recent years I’ve inserted myself into the controversy by locking my hair and wearing my crown in mainstream spaces.
If you are still looking for a way to create space for yourself, don’t stop until you find it. If you have it, hold onto it. One way I show the world that I love myself is in my crown. As my locs grow, they draw more attention. So, people don’t touch my hair. However, I believe that answering questions about the locks that crown my head are a bridge that can change hearts and minds one at a time. Acceptance will always make the world a better place. How do you cope with hair controversy? Someone may need to hear your response.
Teresa Younger is an educator who enjoys history, writing, gardening, and loves being a part of a vibrant community. She earned her bachelor’s degree from UVA and her Master’s degree in education from USC, and has been living in Virginia since 2003 with her family.